Tag Archives: schizophrenogenic mother

Guest Post : Psychiatric theories can be damaging

Today we introduce our first guest poster – Pam Pinder. Pam runs her own website which focuses upon carers issues (see also this link which is relevant to her blog post). In this post, Pam challenges us to consider one possible effect of a well known Psychiatric theory, as usual – we would be interested to hear your views on this.. 


The schizophrenogenic mother is the first one that comes to mind and the psychiatrist that I link this to is R D Laing but there were others that latched onto this theory.

Quote: A cold, dominant, conflict-inducing mother believed to cause schizophrenia in her child.

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the concept of the “schizophrenogenic mother” was popular in the psychiatric literature. Research later confirmed that the mother who could cause schizophrenia in her offspring did not exist. Such a blame-levelling concept, which had no basis in scientific fact, may have caused a great deal of harm. Sociocultural factors, coupled with developments in psychiatric theory, contributed to the genesis of the concept. Implications of this episode in the history of psychiatry are discussed. (Arieti 1997, p. 353; Neill 1990).

Even though this theory was alleged to have faded out in the early 70’s this theory of blame towards parents and link to childhood still exist today. Very recently I spoke to a mother whose daughter had been referred for a psychiatric assessment. Her daughter spent just thirty minutes with the psychiatrist, who promptly told her that she did not have a mental illness and he could not help her. Her problems were due to her childhood, consequently the daughter told her mother there was nothing wrong with her it was her parent’s fault she was the way she is.

The mother is left searching for clues as to what she was meant to have done. But this comment didn’t just stop there. This mother had lost a daughter ten years previous; she died of a brain haemorrhage. Her daughter not only blamed her for her mental health problems but constantly tells her mother that she killed her sister. This is coming from someone who as far as the psychiatrist is concerned does not have any psychological problems!

Of course this mother didn’t kill her daughter and there is no evidence that she caused her other daughter’s problems. Could you imagine how something like this would affect you when you are grieving for a child you lost and someone constantly making accusations that you were responsible for their death?


In a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty yet in psychiatry your guilt is based upon someone else’s theory – something that has been read.